The following statement was released by the Columbia-Richland Fire Department and Fire Chief Aubrey D. Jenkins on Tuesday October 12, 2021 concerning the current state of staffing levels at the fire department.
Recently, there have been several social media posts and articles in the media that we feel do not accurately depict the Columbia-Richland Fire Department (CRFD).
Firstly, the CRFD remains politically neutral and does not officially support any candidate running for political office. We are here to fairly and equally serve each and every citizen and stakeholder that we are entrusted to protect.
Secondly, our department wants to provide accurate and detailed information concerning our staffing levels so that our community members can have a clear and concise understanding of the state of their fire department. We want to eliminate misinformation.
The CRFD’s operational staff is organized into three shifts that operate on a 24 on and 48 off hour schedule. Employees work one day on duty and then they have two days off. Fire apparatus (our firetrucks) are generally each staffed daily with four personnel consisting of a company officer, a driver, and two firefighters.
CRFD strives to staff all of our operational units to consistently fulfill this standard. This means that if a regularly staffed position is left vacant on a shift (typically due to sick leave use or other permissive leave), another employee is called in to fill that spot. On days when the department is critically short-staffed and there are not enough available employees to fill vacant positions, the department has sometimes been forced to temporarily staff some fire apparatus with three employees.
In addition to this, because of a recent increase in use of sick leave the department has had to occasionally take some fire apparatus out of service in order to maintain the department’s overall operational readiness and coverage of both the City of Columbia as well as Richland County. This often occurs at fire stations that house two firetrucks. One of the trucks may be taken out of service on days where staffing levels are even lower than usual. However, there has NEVER been a time where we have taken a full fire house out of service due to staffing issues.
Even when we are short-staffed, CRFD strives to ensure that our operational effectiveness and safety for our firefighters is not compromised. Furthermore, our department empowers our officers to make safe tactical decisions and to always call for additional resources to accomplish their mission on a fire or other emergency.
Currently, we have a total of 454 budgeted positions for operational personnel, and have 28 vacancies among these positions at various ranks. 94% of our full-time positions are presently staffed. This does not include approximately 100 volunteer firefighters who supplement our department in Richland County.
Without a doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unique challenges for all of us. Like many industries around the country, our department has been forced to make adjustments on a daily basis because of this global challenge and other influences on our personnel. In the face of such effects, many companies across our nation have had to close their doors and turn customers away.
This is not an option for the fire department, and our leaders are working hard every day to not let a single member of our community down.
Our members continue to stand true to CRFD’s mission statement of saving lives and protecting property through community risk reduction and emergency professional response to the communities that we serve. Our priorities continue to include the protection of our employees, their health and safety as well as the recruitment and retention of quality firefighters who uphold the department’s mission and values to safeguard our community.
When the public needs us we have always been ready and will continue to be so.
Aubrey D. Jenkins
Columbia-Richland Fire Chief